To those doing Christmas from the other side of the register.

Words by

Amy Campbell

Every year come early December, I find myself on the end of the same, arduous phone call.

“No, Mum and Dad. I won’t be home for the two-week Christmas holiday… again,” is usually how it unfolds. Why? Because I work retail, of course.

If only my family understood. Retail sales assistants play a very important role in this whole Christmas scenario. You could call us modern-day elves, as we facilitate Santa’s foray into fashion. Ask anyone from store managers to the fresh-faced Christmas casual, and they’ll tell you this is not a responsibility for the faint-hearted.

We have a holiday to make happen.

Early December ain’t so bad. It’s the calm before the storm. Some disoriented boyfriends, dads and brothers wander in, hoping to secure gifts as painlessly as possible but with no real direction or ideas in mind. A few sartorial suggestions later and you’ve made the dude’s day. If only the herd of latecomers, looming ominously behind December 20 were going to be as easily pleased.

A week or so in, however, and the repertoire of the shop assistant is expected to grow. Gone are the days when we arrived at work, ready to steam stock, arrange sizes and simply offer style advice.

Gift-wrapping becomes part and parcel of the position, but when done in front of an audience it’s enough to elicit the shakes and nervous sweats. So simple when no one is watching; so impossible to master when a pair of eyes is scrutinising every snip and fold.

And if you’re unfamiliar with your stores refund and exchange policy, I guarantee it’ll become a bible by the time the 25th rolls ‘round. It seems as if no one will commit to buying a gift without knowing they can bring it right back. Heck, sometimes I wonder just how many days it’ll be before the money returns to the credit card and the garment to its rack.   

Come the middle of the month and you’ll have processed the notorious gift card time and time… and time again. If only the voucher was as quick, simple and effortless as its popularly believed to be. These pesky pieces of plastic take FOREVER to process. If you’ve ever made the mistake of allocating the final five minutes of your lunch break to purchasing one, you’ll know exactly what I mean.   

Following on are extended trading hours, and the endless caffeine and upbeat playlists that make these late nights possible. (Sincere apologies if your store enforces a Christmas carol soundtrack – although admittedly, Mariah Carey’s Christmas album is kinda catchy.) We’ll watch longingly from behind shop windows as others flit off to festive parties. But are too sleepy to comprehend our own Christmas drinks when closing time approaches.

The day-before-dashes are definitely the most exhilarating. Like gift grabbing whirlwinds, in burst those that prefer shopping under the influence of an adrenaline rush. And when time is of the essence, your own stress levels rise to rival those running frantically from store to store.  

Gift-wrapping becomes even more nerve-wracking. Declined credit cards invite breakdowns and frustrated fits. When parents with piles of presents to buy reach their daily spending max, you’ll come to master the understanding sigh, and empathetic “let’s try it again.”   

By the time the 24th creeps up, it’s pretty standard to feel like you’ve contributed to everyones Christmas but your own. Through gritted teeth you’ll wish one last “Merry Christmas” to the lady who won’t leave the store. And half excited-half exhausted, you’ll drag your weary body home for the one-day holiday.

Usually, your Kris Kringle will receive a (badly wrapped) gift from the store you work at. But they’ll smile and act surprised, as if they’ve got no idea you’ve been staring at this particular present, premeditating its purchase for months.

And while everyone else is splashing in the pool, you’re excused for falling into a self-induced food coma on the couch. Your family and friends fear what’s around the corner even more than you do. No longer is Boxing Day reserved for cricket watching and leftover lunching, for retail sales assistants it’s the most dreaded day of the year.

I’ll be home for Christmas, Mum. But it’ll be a quick 24-hour rotation of sleep, eat, sleep…repeat. And if I’m getting a bit snappy, sleepy or Scrooge-like, please don’t take it personally. Because believe me (and back me up here retail warriors), my 12 days of Christmas have been more manic than most.   

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